Monday, May 13, 2013


Haydn: Sonata in F no. 3, Hob. 9 -- Movement three: Allegro Molto

You are listening to well over a quarter of a million dollars.

It isn't that I enjoy putting monetary values on things or that I'm trying to parade wealth in front of you, but since you might have been lured into the idea that since this music is available to you simply by clicking a button it isn't worth very much, I thought we should pause and consider where this came from.

The reason that I chose this piece to post is that I happen to like the way I performed it. It is a short piece, and not very difficult. All the same, to be able to play those runs evenly, get those articulations so lively, and scale the dynamics so carefully requires a bit of practice.

And I've had plenty of it. I've probably spent at least 10,000 hours practicing the piano in my lifetime, even if only about 15 minutes of that made it into actually preparing this little number. The blood, the sweat, the tears--I don't know how you can tell what that cost, and I don't know how you can ever really determine whether that cost is worth it. In fact, if you are wondering that at all you are probably asking the wrong question. All I know now is that all the preparation is paying big dividends every time I sit down at the piano a few decades later. But honestly I can't really imagine life any differently for better or worse.

Then there is all that money my parents shelled out for piano lessons--childhood lessons, and then four years at the conservatory. Adjusted for inflated college tuition prices, I wouldn't be surprised if we weren't talking close to 200 grand right there.

After graduation I started to foot the bill. College wasn't getting any cheaper then, by the way. Almost another decade of grad school until I had become a doctor of the piano. No kidding. That's some serious money there.

Of course, we mustn't forget that the piano I'm playing this recording on  (a hundred year old Steinway B) cost a pretty penny. And the recording equipment, relatively cheap by comparison, is still around a thousand dollars by itself. I bought it in installments because for a while I was a broke graduate student before I became a slightly less broke professional musician.

Every second, every nuance had how many hours of lessons, how many teachers, how many previous recordings listened to or books read that went into their preparation? Incalculable.

I could make this a story about how hard I worked and how much I sacrificed and how you all owe me a big pile of money for getting to listen to this music. But let's not forget that vast committee of persons who made it all possible: parents, teachers; professors who taught extra lessons or cheap lessons or grad school deans and voice teachers who made a graduate assistantship possible and with it the chance to get more education. I owe my doctorate to those last two.

And the list fans out from there. The people who built the piano. And rebuilt the piano nearly a hundred years later. They have their store a couple of miles away. I mentioned the microphones and the recorder, but not the computer and the software and the web host and the people who designed the interwebs. Happy 20th birthday to the world wide web, by the way.

We probably should not forget the composer. I don't recall whether Mr. Haydn's authorship is in dispute over this one. But somebody had to set quill pen to paper and set this whole process in motion in the first place. Although, historically, the person(s)--another committee--who invented the piano started the enterprise a bit earlier (1700 or so).

It's not like I had to pay licensing fees to all these people--or any of them-could you imagine the vast wholesale to retail process that would be involved? And the markup would be outrageous!

Most of these folks made or are making a pretty good living doing what they did or do, so I don't feel bad about not chipping in. Mr. Haydn had his princely employment, and so have many others, who didn't really invent what they invented for the express purpose of my using it, or even with the slightest knowledge. It's stunning what an anonymous process all of this is. It's really like the butterfly in Brazil flapping its wings and starting a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Can you blame the butterfly?

And I have my means of making a living as well, which is why you needn't worry about paying for the pleasure of those 50 seconds which, at a cost per second, would hardly be economical if it couldn't exist in mass production, or at least for mass consumption.

But it isn't about the cost, really, and it isn't about numbers. It's funny how people think you can put dollar values on things that seemingly have a cost based on some reasonable calculation of knowable factors when it really just comes down to what somebody is willing to pay for it, not to mention how easy it is to be blind to all of the various costs that have been paid to bring it to you by people you'll never meet. It's also astonishing how easily people come to think that they got everything they got by working hard and forget all the other people who worked hard on their behalf.

So today's selection, like every other selection you've ever heard on Pianonoise, is brought to you by a committee. Pianonoise is not a multinational corporation, with lots of employees working around the globe to bring you the very latest and greatest in piano music from all times and cultures, though it might in some ways resemble that. It's just me. And a whole lot of people that contributed, in various stages of unknowing where it would lead and what the product would look like when it made it to the shelf--or the web player.

We won't be having a fund drive. Some of you have already contributed. For that, thanks. And the rest of you can share in this gargantuan undertaking by just listening. And reading. Or leave a comment or something. Nice to have you around.

Still, in the immortal words of the advertisers, it is quite a deal, isn't it?

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